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While Equatorial Guinea blows money on the AU summit, it's people live in poverty
UN multimedia

The 17th African Union Summit takes place from 23 June to 1 July in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Will the African Union violate its own Constitutive Act and policy standards by hosting the summit in Equatorial Guinea? asks Geoffrey Njora.

Over the next week, Africa’s leaders will troop to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, for the 17th African Union Summit. On the agenda are issues of youth empowerment, implementation of AU decisions by Governments, female genital mutilation and the culture of impunity for human rights violations.
The context of Equatorial Guinea today could not be further from the values and principles of the African Union. The conditions under which the Summit looks set to occur leave many wondering if there any minimum conditions for chairing the Presidency and hosting an African Union Summit?

Sixty-five per cent of seven million Equatorial Guineans live in abject poverty and are denied basic freedoms and rights in one of Africa’s richest countries. Despite a rapidly growing oil, timber and mining industry, the country has poor infrastructure and inadequate social services for the majority of Guineans. While the Constitution guarantees non-discrimination and equal rights between men and women, there is under-representation of women in public and private spaces. Only four of the forty-one Cabinet members are women. Only six of the country’s 100 parliamentarians are women. Boys outnumber girls in schools by five to one.

The country is mismanaged by the Nguema clan with several of the President’s relatives occupying Cabinet positions. The most notorious of the Nguema clan is the son of the President, Teodorin Obiang, widely seen to be the President’s heir to the throne. The personal wealth of Nguema junior is considered to be in the range of US$600-million. His extravagant lifestyle currently includes a $35-million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California, a $33-million jet and a fleet of luxury cars. Not bad, given that he earns a monthly salary of $6,799 as agriculture minister and public servant. If there is an example of ‘self-service’ or a ‘self-servant’ as opposed to a public service and a public servant, it is in Equatorial Guinea that this term finds fullest expression. The country is literally being sold to transnational companies and the proceeds pocketed by the elite.

The preparations for the upcoming summit are consistent with this blatant disregard for the majority of Guineans. On the streets and buildings, banners are going up proclaiming the upcoming Summit. A huge set of 52 luxury presidential villas, a conference hall, an artificial beach, a luxury hotel and the country’s 18-hole golf course has been built in Sipopo, 20 minutes from Malabo.

Ironically, in a summit called to discuss the empowerment of the youth, the host government is spending more on the summit than it does on education and health per year combined. Yet, the investment may leave national delegations with the impression of a country of prosperity. The reality could not be further from the truth.

What the delegates will not see are the 1,000 families that have been evicted over the last few years to make way for new private investment. Most of these families have been neither compensated nor re-housed with alternative accommodation. Schools have been closed for a month now to ensure that students cannot participate in the summit, express their views or act independently. In the last few weeks, over 100 students and political opposition leaders have been arrested.

Public participation in the Malabo Summit will be distinctly different from previous summits. For many years now, most AU summits have been accompanied by citizens groups and civil society side meetings to popularise AU policy standards. Over the last five years, side meetings have enabled non-state actors and citizens to deliberate and feed recommendations into the formal processes of the summit. These recommendations have included gender equality, agriculture, water and sanitation, maternal health, peace in Somalia and the DRC, democratic governance and climate change, among other issues.

Travel visas are reportedly set at US$500 dollars and hotel rooms will be set at likewise exorbitant rates. The government has made clear that no side meetings can take place without the express authorisation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Guineans planning to hold any meeting, whether in public or in private homes, require authorisation to do so. Even the proposed pre-summit civil society meeting convened by the African Union Commission has had to be cancelled as authorisation was not forthcoming from the government.

These state actions are in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights adopted as far back as 1981. They especially flout articles on Association (Art.10), Assembly (Art.11) and movement (Art.12) contained in the Charter.

More seriously perhaps is the degree to which the conditions prevailing in Equatorial Guinea fall short of the Constitutive Act of the AU itself. One of the founding principles of the Act is the participation of the African peoples in the activities of the Union. Article 3.A of the Constitutive Act states that the AU will promote and protect the rights in accordance of the African Charter on Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. Under these conditions neither Guinean nor African citizens will be able to participate independently in the summit.

With this understanding, the obvious question is, why would the AU select Nguema for the Presidency and Equatorial Guinea to host the summit? The decision on the Presidency is taken on a rotational basis by region and for a period of one year. Equatorial Guinea was put forward by its neighbours in the Central African region and the rest of Africa’s leaders accepted this in January 2011. The decision to host the Summit, which often coincides with the selection of the Presidency, is based on countries putting themselves forward to host. The AU Commission establishes a team who pursue a host agreement and preparations are jointly undertaken.

In taking these two decisions administratively, the AU has sacrificed its core values and principles and reduced the stature of the Union. No negotiation seems to have taken place with the authorities to ensure that the relative freedom and political space enjoyed in other African countries would be visited on Equatorial Guinea even for the fortnight of the summit.

Holding a summit in which the host has ratified less than 12 of over 100 of the AU’s treaties is one thing. Holding it in a country in which the host is actively violating the Constitutive Act and key treaties is another. For this and other reasons above, this July’s summit falls far short of the meaningful conditions for holding a summit of African’s leaders. Serious questions need to be asked in the AU’s organs on the whether the time has come for some minimum standards for hosting a Presidency and the summit. One thing is for sure, I for one, shall not be participating in this summit.

While it is unclear which Heads of States have confirmed to travel to this troubled central African country, Libya’s Mummar Gaddafi, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunsia’s Zine Ben Ali will not be among them. The three have been swept from their state houses in popular rebellions early in the year. Perhaps, frustrated by the massive theft of their country and human rights violations, the people of Equatorial Guinea will rise up and Nguema will be sent packing too.

Should this happen, he and his government would not be missed by Africa.


* Geoffrey Njora is an independent Pan Africanist policy analyst who is not attending the 17th African Union Summit in Malabo.
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